Georgia Cavanaugh: Femtech Strategy & Operations
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your current role?
My name is Georgia Cavanaugh and I graduated from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University a couple of weeks ago. I’m originally from North Carolina and went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States. I knew early on in university that I cared about women’s health.
I had the amazing opportunity to spend a summer teaching reproductive health education in rural Uganda in local secondary schools. I also got the chance to spend a semester in Paris, working at a non-profit that fights commercial sexual exploitation globally. I knew I cared about women’s health; I just didn’t know what that would look like in my career. I thought that maybe I would go into non-profits or join the government.
After I finished university, I spent an amazing year in Malaysian Borneo through the Fulbright Program, which is a scholarship programme through the U.S. government. I taught English in a rural secondary school and also started a girls’ empowerment programme there. It was the most transformative experience of my life and I recommend visiting Malaysia if you ever get the chance.
After I completed that year, I came back to Washington, D.C. to be near the heart of policy. I worked at Booz Allen Hamilton and spent the first few years focused on consulting for the federal government. I then moved into an internal role supporting the Chief People Officer and Chief Diversity Officer, where I looked at a lot of issues affecting women in the firm. I worked on the firm’s first women’s conference and got to interview a lot of new mothers about their experiences in returning to work after giving birth. It was through those conversations that I knew I wanted to work on issues affecting women full-time.
Kellogg Business School
I then went to Kellogg for business school and joined the world of femtech! My last summer was spent working at DotLab, which is a start-up working on the first non-invasive test to diagnose endometriosis. I then spent 5 months working at June Motherhood, which is a start-up offering pregnancy and postpartum virtual small-group classes taught by experts. Femtech is a space that I care about deeply and now I’m writing for FemTech Collective as a guest writer. My first article came out a few days ago, on menopause and the future of the menopause space.
Can you tell us more about the work you do with FemTech Collective?
I’m writing a series of articles on the femtech industry and landscape as I see it. One of the perks of being a student over the past few years is that I have been able to speak with a lot of venture capitalists who focus on femtech or who are interested in the space. I have also spoken to startup founders who are passionate about the space and through those conversations I have been able to think about the industry at a high level, and where I see it going.
Unfortunately, I do think that femtech is still seen as “niche”, although I hope that that is changing because I’ve heard that phrase said and criticised often recently. Half the population is not niche. I hope that even in the next year things will start to shift, and people will realise that women make 80% of healthcare decisions, and women’s health is not niche!
What inspired you to work with start-ups?
I’ve always been a mission-driven person, and I was so passionate about the mission. In particular, when thinking about start-ups that I wanted to work for, I wanted to be somewhere where I felt I could make a difference immediately, to create something and know I was having an impact. For example, at June Motherhood, I was able to see what I had created go live with customers, learn how they reacted to it and get that feedback. That, to me, is the most exciting thing about being at a start-up: to create something that you know will have an impact on people, and you’re able to see the impact happen in real time.
Advice to start-ups at the beginning of their journey
One of my biggest takeaways from business school is that for a start-up, culture is everything. Culture begins on day one and it affects every choice that your employees make day to day. I think setting that foundation early is so important with a clear mission, vision, and values.
When I see start-ups who have done that really well, it has shifted the entire direction of the organisation because everyone is on board. People feel more empowered to be creative and innovative, and entertain risks if that’s part of the culture. Those elements are so needed, especially in this industry.
I think the biggest challenge for the femtech industry as a whole is funding. Funding continues to lag significantly. Only 3% of venture capital investments last year were focused on women’s health. For half the population, that is just unacceptable. I hope it will change. Folks have been saying for about five years now that femtech is the new frontier and that it’s going to see so much more investment, but it hasn’t moved that quickly considering the scale of other healthtech investments.
Around a billion dollars were invested in femtech last year, up from around $600 million the previous year. This is great, but it is nowhere near what it should be. I think for innovation to keep happening in this space; and for start-ups to continue growing and scaling, there has to be more funding.
Tackling that issue
I think a huge part of that is lack of diversity in venture capital. I heard on a podcast recently that two-thirds of venture capital firms still do not have a female partner, and about 6% of venture capital firms have no women on staff!
Venture capitalists tend to invest in what they understand, where they see opportunities. Perhaps if you haven’t had a personal experience with women’s health either in your own life, or with someone close to you; you may not see the need to invest in that. I think having more women and more people of colour in venture capital can and will go a long way in seeing more investment in this space, especially in areas outside of reproductive health, which has tended to receive the bulk of investment attention.
What attracted you to work with women’s health?
I can’t explain it, other than it was a calling. When I worked in reproductive health that summer in Uganda, it was a luck of the draw. I entered this programme that was a partnership between my university and organisations in Uganda. I happened to be assigned to this community health organisation. It was through that experience, I came to see how accurate health information can change someone’s life.
When I was in high school, I also spent a summer interning at a breast cancer awareness association. I was only 16 at the time and was able to work with women who had survived breast cancer, who had been through this painful experience and were advocating for the health of others. That, for me, was the first spark!
Can you tell us more about your femtech Slack channel?
When I was at Kellogg, I realised that there wasn’t a place for folks who were interested in femtech to connect. We had a technology Slack channel and a healthcare Slack channel, but nothing at the intersection, and I felt that there wasn’t a place folks could go who cared about this topic, so I started one!
I created frequent roundups of content and events in the industry that people would want to know about, things I wish I had been given when I was starting out on this journey, when I was trying to find internships and learn about this space.
I got a lot of positive feedback. We ended up with about 65 people in the channel. Students were reaching out to me in their first year of business school saying that they cared about this industry and asking me how to get started. That felt so meaningful. Knowing that I was able to pay it forward and to help pave the way for others to enter the industry as well.
What inspires you each day in the work that you do?
I would say it’s women’s stories. When I was working at DotLab, one thing I learned was that the average time to diagnosis for endometriosis is 10 years! And this is something that affects one in 10 women. When I think about that, it makes me sick to my stomach; the idea that women are experiencing that level of pain, discomfort; and that it affects the quality of their lives for that long.
When I shared that I was interning at DotLab; women at school started approaching me and saying that they had endometriosis. Hearing stories like theirs inspires me every day. Knowing that wherever I am, the work I’m doing in support of women’s health makes a difference.
What can we do as a collective to help more women in this industry; and to launch more products aimed at women?
I think community is key. There are a lot of amazing groups for women in this space, FemTech Collective included! In this emerging industry it’s key to connect and learn from each other and share best practices. That’s something that has blown me away about femtech.
Having attended events and conferences in other industries; I’ve found other industries aren’t necessarily as supportive as femtech tends to be. You don’t always see competitors sitting side by side, congratulating and celebrating each other; but that’s something I have seen in femtech. The more we can do that the better!
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